Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Criticizing the van pool program for workers in California

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — An expanding ride-share program for unlicensed and uninsured farmworkers is being criticized by opponents who say the van system benefits illegal immigrants.

Ventura and Santa Barbara county officials said they plan to pattern their farmworker transit systems on a 5-year-old program serving five counties in the southern San Joachim Valley.

Ventura and Santa Barbara were granted $3 million in state funds to purchase vans and cover operating expenses for three years.

But critics said the state should not subsidize a program that appears to benefit workers who can't get insurance and licenses because they are in the country illegally.

"The reason we have the large-scale illegal immigration is that we keep coming up with ways to accommodate people who are breaking the law rather than enforcing it," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform.

Officials, however, said the program would make roads safer by getting uninsured and unlicensed drivers off the street, and local growers said it would help ensure a stable and reliable work force.

"From a transportation policy standpoint, this is a good program," said Keith Millhouse, a Ventura County transportation commissioner.

Ventura County's transportation commission is set to vote next week on whether to contract with a private company to operate its program.

Santa Barbara County already has contracted with a nonprofit group to run its program.


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